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Looking Ahead: The Nexus of Social Media & Public Relations

What I found particularly helpful for the audience was the panelists’ wide range of knowledge. They answered questions both from the high level (and forward thinking), i.e., conversation monitoring vs. conversation mining and integrated corporate strategy, to more tactical and detailed answers on how to engage a blogger and determining engagement sentiment.

On Sunday at 4:45 p.m., the Marina Grand Ballroom of the Marriot Hotel and Marina in San Diego, Calif., was packed with PRSA attendees. Peter Himler, founder and principal of Flatiron Communications, and moderator of the panel “Looking Ahead: The Nexus of Social Media & Public Relations” said, “Aren’t there enough social media events?” 

It was great to see a big turnout on a Sunday evening, which is a telltale sign that the topic of social media, public relations and what’s next for the industry is top of mind.

The session panelists included Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing; Rick Clancy, APR, a former senior vice president of corporate communications at Sony; Jessica Smith, of Fleishman-Hillard, and a digital influencer with over 25,000 followers; and Rob Key, founder and CEO of Converseon. The experts had a wide range of knowledge in public relations, SEO, blogger relations, corporate blogging and data measurement and mining.

The discussion started with general introductions providing background details on each panelist and then worked into Q&A that touched upon many pressing public relations topics. What I found particularly helpful for the audience was the panelists’ wide range of knowledge. They answered questions both from the high level (and forward thinking), i.e., conversation monitoring vs. conversation mining and integrated corporate strategy, to more tactical and detailed answers on how to engage a blogger and determining engagement sentiment.

Interesting thoughts and all good take-aways from the general panelist introductions included:

From Lee Odden:

You can’t do search unless you’re social.  Eight or nine years ago companies were doing search to increase leads and sales. Today, search is used for whatever the consumer or a stakeholder is searching — from a journalist scouring the long tail for story ideas and subject matter experts, to people researching products for purchase or the best vacation packages.  If it can be searched it can be optimized. Search will affect the content that public relations puts out there (which results in additional placements).

SEO for public relations is not always geared to make a news release searchable. In many cases, you are not using search as a media relations tool, but rather as a direct-to-consumer tool. With respect to keywords and search, you must first understand your audience and how they search the Internet. Helpful tools for determining keywords include Word Tracker, Keyword Discovery and Google Key Word optimizer tool.�

From Jessica Smith:
Public Relations must manage the message for brands. (That’s why she chose public relations.) Jessica’s clients want digital integration and the inner Web is just another channel. But a major difference, “when working in radio, you have one DJ and working with social media, everyone is a DJ.” 

From Rick Clancy:
As Sony’s first corporate blogger he discussed how blogging for Sony meant one part listening and another part helping. Rick made a great point: In public relations we know how to listen and as public relations professionals we can take points of view, step up and assume a leadership role. No one owns social media (this seems to be the hot topic discussion) but rather we can take a big part in social media.

From Rob Key:
Rob provided interesting insight on listening. He’s a big proponent of listening but it’s really what you do after you listen. Public relations professionals need to take listening into a company beyond the communications department and into all areas that are affected. These areas, whether sales, marketing, product development, customer service, etc., need to understand and have a breakdown of the conversations. In 2008, we saw a checklist of profiles being built by companies, and now it’s time to take listening and conversations to the next level. You can fuse the value of social media into the enterprise.  Rob also discussed the difference between conversation monitoring (monitoring for what’s happening right now with respect to customer service or crisis) and then conversation mining (which is a more advanced mining of data).

Peter set up the discussion with a framework: Are the long-standing disciplines of public relations obsolete, and what skills and competencies still apply? How do you integrate this together? Under these guidelines, the panelists were questioned on various topics including: the traditional agency and media relations vs. blogger relations (blogger engagement), social media strategy, management buy-in, writing content for social media outreach and discussions surrounding the biased blogger. Some of the interesting highlights from the panelists included:

  • Many clients still want to see their companies in Business Week, and public relations people have to move with the shift of media. It’s important to remember that mainstream is also online media and journalists have become bloggers too. By being effective in social media, mainstream media will pick up the discussion. (I believe that both mainstream media and the blogosphere fuel stories back and forth.)
  • There are differences in bloggers and you have to get to know them before you can engage and start a relationship. Some bloggers have journalism backgrounds and others are blogging for fun. This boils down to relationships, whether it’s traditional media relations or blogger relations. 
  • An interesting comment was made about IBM’s study that concluded the closer a company allows its public to get to employees, the better the relationship with the company.
  • With respect to the blogger with a less than favorable opinion, it’s better to ask them to participate in your program and run the risk of their controversy than to not ask them to participate and have them completely scorned.
  • With respect to deterrent detractors, public relations people have to evaluate if people are just listening to the controversy because it’s somewhat entertaining or because they are actually be influenced by the blogger.
  • Social framing is an interesting concept. It’s the understanding that things just don’t have meaning in and of themselves; it’s the meaning that people attach to them. (I believe that’s why even more power will shift to consumers in social networking communities as deeper connections are made across networks and we are looking at one big human network rather than social networking islands. Sociology will play a tremendous part in this social framing within communities.)
  • The topic of engaging bloggers without bribing them was presented by an audience member.  The panelists felt that “we’re creating our own animal here” and companies need to find genuine evangelists (bloggers can always say no to an assignment). It’s important to find out who’s talking about your brand and enlist the potential brand champions.
  • When your CEO is against engaging in the blogosphere, do you homework to prove if there’s a reason for the brand to engage. You don’t necessarily have to dive in head first. In a lot of cases, brands are using social media internally to engage. (I agree whole heartedly and believe that when the value of social media is brought to an organization internally, and you work on building your own brand champions, it makes your external social networking outreach that much more effective for the organization.)

Overall, “Looking Ahead” was an informative panel session where attendees, no matter what level of social media adoption or understanding, walked away with good information (from the basic to higher level concepts and what’s next for public relations). There were many questions from the audience and the strong participation was a sign of a successful session! 

Deirdre Breakenridge, president and director, Communications, PFS MarketwyseDeirdre Breakenridge, president, director, Communications, PFS Marketwyse, is a veteran in the public relations industry. Deirdre leads a creative team of public relations and marketing executives. Deirdre is an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J., where she teaches courses on public relations and interactive marketing for the Global Business Management program. She recently finished her fourth Financial Times business book, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” co-authored by Brian Solis. She has also authored “PR 2.0, New Media, New Tools, New Audiences,” “The New PR Toolkit” and “Cyberbranding: Brand Building in the Digital Economy.” Deirdre speaks publicly on public relations, online marketing and brand building. Past speaking engagements include the National Women’s In Network Conference, as a keynote speaker; the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA); The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB); Strategic Research Institute (SRI); Women’s Presidents Organization (WPO); Tier1 Research; and at a number of colleges and universities. Deirdre is a member of PRSA and has served on the board of N.J./PRSA and the New Jersey Advertising Club.

For coverage of the PRSA 2009 International Conference: Delivering Value, visit our Conference blog or follow the conversation on Twitter at hashtag #prsa09.

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Deirdre Breakenridge


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